Short version(Cross-posted with edits from my blog.)
The Koven route on Owen is much improved by snow, but was in transition on July 8. The first pitch off the glacier was dry rock, and the rest of the route was mostly a good snow climb, but a bit of mixed and genuine ice in the middle added challenge and spice. While there were boot tracks, the climb had a "wild" feel not found on the Grand or other more accessible peaks. I highly recommend it.
This was my first "real" Teton climb, and indeed my first technically challenging day since probably Blanca last month, so I was apprehensive. It was not long by Sierra standards -- just over 5 hours to summit, and less than 10 car-to-car -- but difficult for the variety of terrain to be crossed. The crux was either the mixed/ice climbing or the initial rock pitch (probably because I was wearing clunky mountaineering boots).
Longer version, or "learning mixed climbing on the job"The mosquitoes were so terrible at Lupine Meadows that I could either sleep covered in DEET or with all windows closed. I chose the latter, but managed a decent alpine start (4:30) despite the unpleasantness. I cruised past a couple carrying skis to the Middle Teton glacier and arrived at the trail junction in an hour -- a respectable uphill 3 MPH. However, either the signed mileage was wrong, or I was much slower on the section up past Surprise and Amphitheater lakes. After a bit of bumbling through campsites looking for the use trail, I made my way down to the snowfield below Disappointment Peak and put on crampons.
The route meanders either along arms of snow or across a moraine to the body of the Teton glacier, east of the ridge connecting Owen to the Grand. The snow is clearly preferable, despite having to cover a bit more distance to stay close to the eastern and southern walls.
The Koven couloir intimidated me as I approached: the lower rock pitch looked doable, but the upper snow pitch looked awfully steep. However, reaching the base of the rock, I realized it is not nearly as steep as it looks from across the glacier. I went through the nuisance of reattaching axe and crampons to my Camelbak, then got down to business. I found the rock surprisingly challenging for its pitch, being worn smooth by snow and water, and lacking many positive holds. No doubt my clunky boots and lack of serious climbing of late contributed as well. As I climbed, I listened to the constant rockfall along the Grand's east ridge, and almost wished I had a helmet.
From closer up, the snow looked less steep, but still intimidating. It was time to see what these new crampons could do. The pitch up to the upper cliffs was mostly moderate, and the snow was perfect for crampons to bite. As it steepened beneath the overhanging eastern cliff, I found a decent boot track that helped somewhat, but it was still slow, tiring front-pointing. As the snow narrowed and steepened, I began using my axe as a poor man's ice tool, gripping the head and driving the point into the snow, rather than sinking the spike and shaft.
After leaving my axe and crampons at the top of the snow, I found the route to the summit more complex than I had expected. You need to climb a very short chimney, then make your way to the ridge at left along ledges and slabs. Once you cross the ridge, make your way up the face while looking for a crack or tunnel in the summit rock to the right, on its west side. I blew right by this and wasted time flailing around an overhanging move to the northwest, ruining my chance to summit in under five hours. The summit itself is large, with a comfortable seat next to the USGS marker.
The snow on the ridge and glacier was slushy on the way back, but the couloir was still mostly shaded: a long icy, hard, careful, inward-facing downclimb. Soon after recrossing the glacier and regaining the ridge, I ran into the first of many tourists enjoying the woods, lakes, and bogs.
Or perhaps they were paying more attention to their surroundings, as a group of them pointed out a strange, black-furred marmot. I asked a ranger later, and it turns out that they are the same as the normal yellow-bellied marmots, but sometimes one is born black. I'm not sure this happens elsewhere, since I have never seen one among countless marmots in California and Colorado.